Each of the three drivers chasing Lewis Hamilton made inroads on his lead in Turkey – Fernando Alonso is now five points behind, Felipe Massa 15 adrift and Kimi Raikkonen 17 behind.
There are only four rounds left after this one – and if any of the leaders falls to more than 10 points behind his team mate they could soon find themselves having to play the backup role.
British fans note qualifying will be broadcast on ITV 4 this week.
Monza usually sees the lowest downforce settings of the year. Though it will be interesting to compare how the cars turn out for the Japanese Grand Prix at Fuji, which features a mix of long straights and short, tight corners that could mimic Monza’s demands more closely than any other circuit.
The teams have already tested their ultra-thin wings trimmed for maximum speed. the cars exceed 340kph on the run to the first corner, before braking heavily for a tight, narrow chicane.
At the request of the GPDA the second chicane now has a tarmac runoff area but drivers will not be allowed to get away with cutting the corner.
Around 80% of the lap is spent at full throttle. Most drivers will have a new engine at this race, but with the next stop being another high-speed venue – Spa-Francorchamps – preserving engine life will be critical.
As usual qualifying will be very important and so will the run down to the first corner.
TV times – Britain
Schedules from ITV and Radio Times
Grand Prix Qualifying live – Saturday 8th September 12.30-14.30, ITV4 (Qualifying starts 13.00)
Grand Prix Race live – Sunday 9th September 12.00-14.50 ITV1 (Race starts 13.00)
Grand Prix Race highlights – Sunday 9th September 22.45-23.45 ITV1
Grand Prix Race highlights – Monday 10th September 18.00 ITV4
With overtaking no easier at Monza than anywhere else qualifying will be crucial to determine which of the two drivers comes out on top. Alonso’s qualifying effort with a damaged car last year was mighty (before he was controversially penalised) but Hamilton is returning to the scene of his GP2 title triumph last year.
Heikki Kovalainen did a fine job to race with the BMWs at Istanbul, but the R27 might not have enough in it to keep up this weekend.
Giancarlo Fisichella, meanwhile, could be fighting to keep his place in the team.
Ferrari have had good straight line speed this year so a one-two will be expected. In testing they again looked good on the longer runs but struggled a little for one-lap pace. That could leave them vulnerable to the BMWs at the start of the race – especially if McLaren lock out the front row.
But they will have enormous home support on their side.
Honda have a radical upgrade planned for the Japanese Grand Prix (as do Ferrari) and as aerodynamic efficiency rather than outright downforce is the name of the game here they might not have such a bad race.
BMW were superbly strong here last year, allowing Robert Kubica to score his first podium.
Expect them to keep the front runners honest and even hold up one or two of them for a few stints as they did to Fernando Alonso last time.
Need a strong result to get back on terms with Williams (who, after all, are using their engines). Ralf Schumacher was a lapped 15th last year – the team need him up at the sharp end with his team mate, whose Turkish Grand Prix was ruined by Fisichella.
Fifth in the championship, the best Williams can realistically hope for is to still be there at the end of the season.
To do that they really need Alexander Wurz’s qualifying performances to match his team mate Nico Rosberg’s. Another modest haul of points this weekend will help keep Red Bull and Toyota at arm’s length.
Scuderia Toro Rosso-Ferrari
Vitantonio Liuzzi is making a case for his place in F1 as he keeps the highly-rated Sebastian Vettel behind him. But is there anyone on the pit lane likely to take Liuzzi on?
Adrian Sutil and Sakon Yamamoto will get the use of the B-spec F8-VII this weekend. It will be interesting to see what Sutil can do with it – he was able to mix it with the Toro Rossos and Hondas last weekend.
A fine qualifying lap by Anthony Davidson at Istanbul was poorly rewarded when he was delayed by Trulli’s spinning Toyota at the start. Points are likely to be out of the team’s reach this weekend – but if a lot of runners fall by the wayside Davidson needs to be the man that brings home the points for Super Aguri.
Predict the podium for the Grand Prix – leave your comments below.